Commentaries

Who shall say I am not the happy genius? (WCW)

William Carlos Williams, “Danse Russe”

If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees, —
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
again the yellow drawn shades, —

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

[c. 1917]

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Shawn Walker and I discuss the poem — an audio mini-lesson recorded for an all-online version of my English 88 course around ten years ago. Williams recorded the poem a number of times, but here is a version made in 1950.

Begging the reader's indulgence — not

On Tuesday morning I interviewed novelist Mary Gordon during her second day here as our final Writers House Fellow for ’09. The recording of what was a live video feed is ready. There is also a downloadable audio recording as well.

I told her that the stories I admired most were her meta-stories — stories in which narrrative problems are foregrounded, in which the narrator’s problem is part of the story, in which a Gordonian figure appears to talk about how the story got constructed or nearly prevented. The most upbeat of these is called “Storytelling.” The most compelling is one called “Intertexuality,” where the narrator’s (indeed, and Mary’s) embarrassing and sometimes hateful stolid grandmother angrily responds to her house having been completely made over while she was sent away for a vacation in Florida, and then gets treated to a finale in which she enters a scene in Proust, whom the narrator/Mary has been reading. The second intertext is this story itself.

After chatting about such meta-stories, and about “Intertexuality,” asked M.G. to read the end of that story. This is near the beginning of the recording. At the end, I ask her to read from the memoir she wrote in the mid-90s about the awful father whom she nonetheless adored (and somewhat still adores). In the passage she reads, from a preface directed “To the Reader,” she is just about to ask the reader’s indulgence — that conventional gesture — but then realizes that she’s not writing for readers, but for her father, and so, she says, the writing is an undying. Powerful, compelling, and not just a little creepy.

Poet missing


As of April 30, 2009, poet Craig Arnold is missing on a small volcanic island in Japan. He went for a solo hike to explore an active volcano on the island and never returned to the inn where he was staying. The authorities are currently on the final day of the search mission. If he is not found by today, the search will be called off.

The Poetry Foundation is following the situation closely.

Poetic sweep

Proudly, I pass along part of a note we received from Sandy Van Doren, a member of the Board of the West Chester University Poetry Center:

ALL FOUR IRIS SPENCER UNDERGRADUATE POETRY AWARDS, sponsored by the West Chester University Poetry Center, were won by University of Pennsylvania students! Congratulations, and wow! The biggest award is for the Iris Spencer formal poem, with a prize of $500.00. That is going to Molly O’Neill. The second award for a formal poem is being given to Frances Wright, with a prize of $250.00. The two haiku winners are David Doyle, for $300.00, and Victoria Lee. As you may remember all four students will be honoured at the international West Chester Poetry Conference on Wednesday, June 10, with a panel discussion at West Chester University’s Sykes Union Theater from 3:00–4:00 and then are invited to attend the reception and banquet that follow. The keynote speaker that evening after the banquet will be poet, Donald Hall.

Many tweets in poets' recordings

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